Why I Dig Janelle Monáe And The Impact She Is Having On The Music Industry As A Non-Conforming Woman Of Color
Janelle Monae (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen, file)
It’s 2013, and with some Grammy nods under her belt, a chart-topping song w/the band Fun., a contract with CoverGirl, and a slamming new single, “Q.U.E.E.N,” Janelle Monáe is a glow in the middle of a music industry dim with pre-packaged clones.
I was especially grateful for the new single after seeing much of 2013’s first quarter music attention go to self-indulgent tunes. “Q.U.E.E.N” an electrifying women’s empowerment anthem, asks the tough questions about women’s rights and our ability to simply be who we are – no questions asked. The beat is sick. Monáe’s rap is beyond dope. And the video reintroduces her with a new edge but the same black and white baseline of authenticity. With humility that is severely lacking and heartfelt commitment to honoring those who paved the way, Monáe almost seems too good to be true.
I was immediately taken with Janelle Monáe back in 2009 when I watched her perform her thought-provoking single, “Sincerely, Jane” on NPR. Her black and white ‘uniform’ as she calls it stood out amidst an entertainment industry that begs skin and stilettos to move units and grow fame. Her lyrics weren’t the same old narcissistic drivel we were used to. No, there was depth to this young lady and I dug it.
I thought: How is she doing this? How is her star consistently rising without a racy video? Without suggestive lyrics? Without being romantically linked to another star?
Simply put: Her gift makes room for her. Watching her rise on the music scene, you can’t help but to respect her even if you don’t necessarily vibe with her genre of music. Looking at the body of work, the poise, the performance, the image, the lyrics – you see someone who decided a long time ago not to yield to the ‘packaging’ of the industry. Instead, Monáe decided to fold her heritage and eclectic style into her music. With musical talent in spades to boot, she’s done a great job of branding herself.
At the most visible layer, we see a young woman who isn’t conforming to standards of how a female artist should behave or be ‘packaged’ in order to be a star. But the story beneath her black and white attire and thought-provoking lyrics is steeped in a background that many of us know firsthand.
Accepting her award at the 2012 Black Girls Rock! Celebration, Monáe recounted her days as a maid when she took her first steps toward becoming a music artist. She also held a spotlight on her mother, stepfather and biological father for their pride in their working-class roles as janitors, garbage men and mailmen in the poorest county in Kansas City, Kansas. Understanding, accepting and appreciating the legacy of pride in what most consider menial occupations, Monáe was compelled to do the unconventional for a music sensation – wear a uniform. And it absolutely makes sense. It’s honest and compelling in a way that invites us to remember our own heritage. No matter where she goes, who she meets, how long she performs, what awards she is given – she can look at herself, look inward, and be reminded of who she is at her core and the values she learned from a working-class background.
Another thing to love about Janelle Monáe is that she is the definition of a beautiful woman of color. She has reminded us of what it actually means to be beautiful. Having become the newest addition to a long list of gorgeous CoverGirls, Monae’s face is hard to look away from. How revelatory is that? It’s not her curves we’re staring at. We’re breathless at her beautiful face and her warm personality. We’re focused on her lyrics and how deeply we can identify with them. We’re thrilled by the exhilarating performance she gives whenever she graces a stage. We notice and are enthralled with Janelle Monáe because of who she is, not her cup size or how racy her videos are. She is beautiful because she chooses not to be packaged for male gratification. There is nothing about her that is suggestive or lewd in an attempt to sell records. She’s simply open, honest, creative and ripe with multiple layers of talent.
A true musical role model our babies can emulate like this little Q.U.E.E.N:
And then, this one:
And this one:
Peace to Janelle Monáe for being a colorful example of ALL the possibilities.
La Truly seeks to encourage thought, discussion and change among young women through her writing. Follow her on Twitter: @AshleyLaTruly and AboutMe http://www.about.me/latruly.
Photos courtesy of via iheartthreadbared.wordpress.com, Pinterest and via ecobeautybytes.com.